Story of hope behind sex trafficking statistic
CNN's Atika Shubert interviews "Laura" -- not her real name -- who has rebuilt her life after being trafficked for sex.
March 31st, 2011
09:27 AM ET

Story of hope behind sex trafficking statistic

It’s not often you get invited on a personal tour of the red light district of Copenhagen, Denmark. Michelle Mildwater, of the anti-trafficking group Hope Now, is an impassioned activist. She walks me through the most notorious corners with a smile on her face.

“How are you?” she calls out to clusters of African women standing on the street. “Do you know who I am?” She hands them her business card and often condoms. She tells them where to find doctors and other help. Most of the younger women she approaches are nervous. They glance at her quickly, then ignore her or walk the other way.

On one corner, a group of older women are smoking cigarettes and laughing. They recognize Mildwater and greet her warmly. They chat about the cold weather, the lack of customers in winter and the bad situation back home - in this case Nigeria. One tall woman, calling herself Lucy, tells me that she had a cleaning job in Italy but lost it when the company went bankrupt in the recession. And now she’s on the street again. She shrugs it off.

When we leave, Mildwater leans over to tell me: “They’re probably the pimps, managing the other girls on the street.”

Mildwater describes the complex world of trafficked women from Africa. Many are first brought to Europe bound by “juju” contracts – promises to repay debt based on religion and superstition. One of the reasons trafficked women won’t turn in their pimps, she says, is because they believe they will literally lose their soul if they cooperate with police.

But those same women may try to work their way out of the trade by becoming a “manager” - a pimp or recruiter for new victims.

It’s a vicious circle.

In Sweden, we are taken for a tour of a different kind: inside a safe house for trafficked women. All the available spaces are full.

There is a large, warm kitchen, a dining room and a playroom for children. The walls are lined with smiling baby photos, either born here or trafficked alongside their mothers.

Here we met “Laura,” not her real name. It’s hard to imagine her as a victim of trafficking. She is bubbly and fun, speaks her mind. She tells us how this interview is going to be: no faces, no names. She slips on a black hoodie to cover her hair, sits down and starts telling us her story.

“The guys, two guys, they drove us to this apartment. They took our passports. And I start to fight with one of the guys. I said, no, no give it back. I didn’t want to give my passport. So because I start to fight with him, he beat me up, and after this he raped me."

She says it so matter-of-factly, so bluntly, that I’m a bit taken a back. But this is how Laura has become a survivor, not a victim, of trafficking. She has confronted her past head-on.

Sold into sexual slavery by her “boyfriend,” Laura escaped her captors only to end up on the street on drugs and pregnant. It’s a horrific story but this one has a happy ending.

Laura remains dry-eyed until she talks about her new home.

“I was at the street, I was six-months pregnant. I didn’t know what to do, where to go. I didn’t know anything.”

She broke down in tears at this point and it was hard for me not to cry as well.

“When they called me and said yes come here. I saw my room. I couldn’t believe it.” She told me “I thought: No, this can’t be happening to me. It can’t be. Because all the time, I just had very bad things in my mind. I’ve been living here for one year, two months. It’s been the happiest time of my life.”

I’ll be hearing more stories like this through CNN’s Freedom Project. I only hope that more of them will also end happily, like Laura's.

Related: The battle against sex trafficking, Sweden vs. Denmark

soundoff (28 Responses)
  1. J. Jean F. Emile

    I was truly touched by this particular report. Poor girl 6 months pregnant and selling her body on the streets. I am always saddened by any kind of human trafficking and am really happy that CNN has taken it upon themselves to bring this sad sad problem to the forefront. JE

    March 31, 2011 at 12:55 pm | Reply
  2. Torben Marer

    Sure Sweden think they made the right decision, but the sad truth is that there are at least ten times more young girls being raped in Sweden, than in Denmark, nobody is talking about this problem?? and many swedes visits" the brothel" of Scandiania.

    Even judges and the highes police boss in Sweden got caught with buying sex. Good moral is nice but dobble moral is dobble as good,
    Of course we should protect women who has been forced into prostitution. But some really choose there way of living by themselves.

    March 31, 2011 at 3:23 pm | Reply
  3. Drew4U

    A good solution to help stop this problem is that all foreigners must keep their passport on them at all times, this way you will not be able to be used in any manner the pimps want to control you with the passport. A person caught with other people passports jailed and prosecuted as a criminal trafficker with a minimum time of 5-7 years, now the pimps will leave that country and if caught trafficking all your money, bank accounts, cars are sold and all you have is given to the victims. Give the pimp a polygraph test to uncover other victims.

    March 31, 2011 at 6:09 pm | Reply
    • Anthony Adoghe

      Drew, where are you from? you are obviously very myopic and ignorant in your reasoning. Most times, its better to read and learn from others; you are not obliged to write down a comment. You have, and too sad you have shown the world how exposed to this topic you are. Now do us all a favour and read!!!

      April 2, 2011 at 7:59 am | Reply
  4. ma & pa

    how keep passport when caught stripped and whipped by pimp? Other than that small problem .............

    April 1, 2011 at 4:03 am | Reply
  5. G. Clark

    Human trafficking is a very serious issue. It is estimated that 12m people live in modern slavery. I watched a very impressive video about this topic.. Watch it and spread the word!

    April 1, 2011 at 10:08 am | Reply
  6. James Okeke

    Is quite sad on how this issue of human trafficking for sex is going....Most of these girls coming from Nigeria were not forced into prostitution, they are fully aware of what they are going into, the government have created so many awareness in the country for young girls to be careful about this issue but yet out of their own selfishness and desire to get rich quick they agree to go abroad for prostitution. Nigeria has a free primary and secondary school education system. I'm quite aware of the situation of the country because I'm a Nigerian. My family is not rich but I managed to go to school and I'm well educated and certainly I have a better life. I must tell you most of these girls going to europe for prostitution are just from one tribe (and just one state) in Nigeria known for their desire and willingness to go abroad while fully aware of what they are going for.Please do not believe anybody coming from Nigeria telling you that she was forced into it.

    April 1, 2011 at 11:39 am | Reply
    • Rita

      Well am very disapointed ur coments sir. There is something called MORDEN SLAVERY,and am shocked that you claimed your educated. Please read more and know whats happening in your country

      April 2, 2011 at 12:28 pm | Reply
    • Graham

      You can't try to say that ALL of the slaves know what they are getting into. They do it for a better life but dont realize the pain it brings until it starts. Sure some of them know what they are getting into and then become the pimps and this keeps the vicious circle going but this doesn't go for all of them. This is terrible news...

      April 5, 2011 at 9:25 am | Reply
  7. Anthony Adoghe

    OMG. Mr James Okeke, you are certainly not well educated as you claim and I beg of you to retrieve and correct those words and your whole comment. There's a tendencyto think like that when you have not explored the whole issue. Alot of girls have been and are still being sold into slavery by their families and relatives. Children are being sold into slavery. across the Cameroun borders. Its even irresponsible of you to claim that the Nigerian Government is doing enough educating the people about it. You must be a govt official sitting in the city and not aware of what "real poverty" is.

    April 2, 2011 at 8:07 am | Reply
  8. Bernard

    I should have known that CNN would have to take the the puritanical approach to human trafficking. This is so American. You have to simplify everything so much more than it really is. And its all for your own benefit and your own PR. In order to have a good PR campaign, you have to create a huge, horrible problem, so that everyone will feel awful and then they will feel so great that CNN is helping to save these slaves! The new crusade! Just like we were liberating Iraq from themselves!

    Yes human trafficking exists, but I think it may be dramatically exaggerated. Recent survey from Cambodia, commissioned by the UN, found that there are only 433 trafficking victims in Cambodia, out of about 28,000 sex workers. Find the study at

    Sounds like an old video game- or childish fantasy. Save the princess from the horrible beast!

    April 2, 2011 at 9:46 pm | Reply
  9. Bernard

    How many people reading this have any direct experience talking to a sex worker? Or do you just believe everything the corporate media tell you?

    April 2, 2011 at 9:48 pm | Reply
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